Posts tagged ‘Apple’

Two books down…

I just finished two books and would like to share them. Keep in mind that I am not the biggest consumer of fiction books: I tend to gravitate to historical or anecdotal stories or nonfiction. But these two books are interesting in their own ways:

A Year at the Movies by Kevin Murphy

For those who don’t know, Kevin Murphy is one of the original creators of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and spent its 10 year run writing, directing, and performing, mostly as the voice and puppeteer of fireplug-esque Tom Servo. The root of this show was to make fun of really bad movies, so this translates to literally thousands of really horrible movies that the author has had to endure. In the course of this book I learned that Murphy is a true student of film, both academically and in his own research and exposure, and quite erudite and critical yet always with a nod to the tastes of the common viewer (one of his current jobs is reviewing movies for NPR). Knowing this fact only enhances the agony he must have suffered with the likes of Manos, the Hands of Fate and Red Zone Cuba.

In 2001 the author embarked on a challenge for himself, that he could then turn into a book. He planned to view at least one film per day for the entire year, with some limitations such as it must be a publicly exhibited film rather than a private screening in his home. He viewed movies in his local multiplex, in quaint single screen movie houses, and traveled the world to view movies in a broad variety of locations. The form of the book is semi-chronological: The top of each chapter (spanning one week) shows the movies and the locations they were viewed, but each chapter also delves into one aspect of the movie watching experience which may include events across the entire trip. If he had traveled to a specific place, for example the world’s smallest licensed theater in New South Wales, Australia, the chapter would expound on his experience and allow him commentary about the nature of the place/event/aspect of watching movies. This works well, and some of his destinations or challenges are fascinating, intriguing, or very amusing. He visits a theater built into an igloo in northern Quebec, a film festival above the arctic circle in Finland, and an open-air theater in Mexico. He dressed up for the sing-a-long Sound of Music in London, and attended movies at his local multiplex in full Santa gear. He also set some special events for himself, such as taking six different women to the same date movie (including his wife and mother-in-law), working as a ticket taker in a movie house, and sneaking his entire Thanksgiving dinner into a theater.

Murphy does a strange thing as he writes. It’s fairly obvious that he is an intellectual, maybe even the kind of guy you’d hate if he sloshed intellectual all over you at a party. But he also exposes a simpler, Midwestern-bred everyman sensibility that allows him to reveal pretension where it lives and name it pretentious. He clearly longs for what going to the movies meant in his childhood, but he also acknowledges what is good about seeing movies in this modern age. So as
you read you get opinions and commentary from a pragmatic, someone who eschews the snobbery and the lowest common denominator to see movies like most of us see movies. You find yourself agreeing with him a lot as he laments or praises the current state of filmgoing.

And it is damn funny! Throwing insults for a living has made the author quick to the unflattering comparison or cutting remark. But he also paints some interesting stories that will make you smile. If you enjoyed the sort of humor MST3K presented, then A Year at the Movies will feel very familiar.

Revolution in the Valley by Andy Hertzfeld

The story of Apple Computers is one of the great American business successes. And the introduction of the Macintosh is considered one of the key moments in the evolution of the personal computer. And while many of the stories of the birth of the Mac have been told (most recently in the made-for-cable movie “Pirates of Silicon Valley”), this compilation/history is from the viewpoint of one of the creators. Hertzfeld was a key member of the software development team, christened one of the seven “Design Team” members that were presented to the press. And he provides a very unique perspective on the development of one of the true pieces of creation in computing.

The book is written in a format that suits a programmer: rather than a straight narrative, the five parts are broken up into self contained, cross-referenced anecdotes. These may be single stories, a background on a team member, a particular feature of the Mac, or a snapshot of how the computer evolved. Hertzfeld collected stories and facts on his internet site, and compiled them into this semi-historical record. He evens starts the book by introducing the “cast of characters”, capsule introductions to the primary subjects of the story, including Apple co-founders Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs.

Be forewarned: This book may be too much for a layperson. Hertzfeld relishes in the technical achievements of the Mac, and subsequently spends time with very technical minutiae. But if you have a technical bent you do gain a real appreciation for the technical mastery required to pull off something this unique. The book is also crammed with photos, scans of developer’s notes, and other archive material. If you want to forgo the technical jargon, there are some stories within that will amuse or enlighten: Learn what happens when you enter Steve Jobs’ “reality distortion field”, or follow the meteoric rise of a service technician to the primary hardware architect of the Mac, or watch as three Mac programmers attend Steve Wozniak’s US Festival and get summarily thrown out. The book recounts notable events of the birth of the Mac from the inside, such as the famous “1984” commercial, or Time Magazine’s Machine of the Year cover, or the prescient machinations of an early Apple partner, Bill Gates (his business style was evident even then)!

If you are as intrigued by the early, formative years of the modern age of computing as I am, Revolution in the Valley is an enjoyable read.